November 04, 2017

Mr. Powell. Tear down that wall of risk weighted capital requirements that destroy bank systems and economies

Sir, Sam Fleming writes that Jeremy Stein, a Harvard academic describes Jay Powell, the newly appointed chairman of the Fed, as curious, incredibly collegial, and willing to learn. “A safe pair of hands takes over the Fed” November 4.

Sir, for the umpteenth time: All major bank crisis have resulted from unforeseen events, like major devaluations or wars, criminal behavior or excessive exposures to something that was perceived as safe when incorporated in the balance sheets of banks. Never ever from excessive banks exposures to something ex ante perceived as risky.

Therefore I pray Jay Powell is curious enough to ask the following question:

Colleagues, the standardized Basel II risk weights sets 20% for what is AAA rated and could be very dangerous; and 150% to what is below BB-, that which seems so innocous because bankers would not touch it even with a ten feet pole. Could you please explain the thinking process that supports such risk weights?

If he does, I hope Mr Powell will not be hindered by too much collegiality, so that he is able to realize that the absence of a convincing answer to that question should make him seriously suspicious of some of his colleagues. 

And if he then wants to learn something I would offer him as an appetizer offer him the following:

Mr. Powell, the future problems of the Fed (and other central banks) will be insurmountable if we persist in using risk weighted capital requirements for banks.

Credit is not flowing to where free markets offer the highest risk adjusted net margins but, since 1988, Basel I, and most specially since 2004, Basel II, it is flowing to what offers the highest risk adjusted returns on capital, something which totally distorts when banks are allowed to leverage assets differently, depending on how their risk have been perceived, decreed or concocted as safe.

And the distortions are alive and kicking in Basel III too.

That impedes the economy to realize its full potential and also does not in any way guarantee financial stability, much the contrary.

Our savvy bank loan officers have now been replaced by saddening bank equity minimizing, bonuses maximizing officers.

And for a more complete explanation I would refer Mr. Powell here